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Speedlight settings, combinations and tips for the terrified... :)

Ellie Lewis , Feb 24, 2012; 05:45 a.m.

I'm new to the forum - please be nice :)

About me...I am a children's portrait photographer and have been doing a lot of studio flash and natural light up till now. I'm sometimes also using speedlights and want to do more with these. I got a Nissin Di622 first off, but found that it wasn't intuitive enough and I was often not getting the light I expected. So this year I've splashed out on the Nikon SB-910 which is superb. I also use ezybox and umbrellas where possible. Oh, and I shoot with a D700.

HELP...however a friend has now asked me to do her wedding as a favour - eeek!
It's a relatively small wedding - about 40 people - but a register office an then hotel meal, both venues not necessarily easy for photography (I'm checking them out a bit more next week).

SO....Does anyone have any TOP TIPS on flash photography at weddings?
I prefer to have a natural light look to my photos - even if it's all flash.. so I tend to turn down the flash to -0.7 or -1.0. This works ok with shooting children where there's lots of light but I am wondering how this will work in a dark hotel in late afternoon?

QUESTIONS in my head are...
- What settings do you tend to use for flattering light? Does everyone use TTL BL for fill and TLL for dark rooms or have I got that wrong?
- What settings do you use on camera - AP or M? Why?
- What sort of shutter speeds do you commonly find yourself using?
- Does anyone have BOTH SB-910 and the Nissin? How would I use them together most simply?
- In general, would you use 2 speedlights together at a wedding? What about the large group shot?
- Do you ever set up stands for your speedlights - if so for what setting? I have a camera & speedlight bracket and I was assuming that I wouldn't be using stands at all - let me know if I'm wrong...
- Flash diffusers? I have ordered a Gary Fong Lightsphere because I thought it was probably a sure-bet.
- Are there any setups that I shouldn't miss? Any sure-fire winners that the bride and groom will go 'fantastic'! If I know there are some winning shots in the bag I will be less nervous... [quaking in boots..shudder]

It's my best mate who I have known for over 20 years.. and I don't want to let her down - please help!!


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Marios Forsos , Feb 24, 2012; 08:21 a.m.

(this is me being nice by the way...)

First let me start by saying that from your questions I do not get the "experienced children's portrait photographer" vibe...working with portable flashes is no different - photographically speaking - from working with massive Profotos or whatever, so your questions are a bit baffling to me...

As to your questions per se:

1. "Flattering light"? What do you mean? In itself that means absolutely nothing...what is flattering for me would be disastrous to someone else and so on. IF by flattering you mean flat and homogenous, then your best bet is a shoot-thru umbrella.
2. the choice between TTL or M settings on your flashes should be dictated by your shooting style, the environment and the results you expect to get. The combinations are literally infinite and nobody would presume to tell you what to use. Personally I use M (same for the camera) whenever I use small strobes at events like a wedding or something...
3. How can you ask "why" someone uses A or M in their camera? You know the difference, right? It's all about control...you should know the answer to that! Really...
4. about shutter speeds...it's the same as above..! If you want to introduce blur in your image or not, if you're looking to make the most of rear-curtain sync or whatever your shooting style is, you set your camera accordingly...this is photography 000, not even 101...
5. Yes, I have owned both (and multiples of them) and I have used them through Nikon's CLS...easy to set, easier to control, perfect results almost every time (depending on environment etc)
6. I would use as many lights as I could control! End of story...I usually carry 5-6 with me and, depending on the space, the people, the approach I have decided to adopt for that specific shoot, the character of the people etc, I may install all or none of them... and as for shooting a group, you should know how to do this be it with 1 or 2 flashes...otherwise you have no reason being there as a wedding photographer...
7. stands? HOW else were you expecting to support your flashes? How do you support your strobes in your studio?
8. The GF LS is a simple (some say simplistic) solution for diffusing on-camera flash. It will give you some good results when moving around and trying to capture moments here and there, but it's not a sure-fire solution for everything... Did you order it without ever trying it out? Tsk, tsk, tsk...
9. There is NOTHING sure-fire about a wedding... it all depends on where you are, who the people are and a billion other factors. Nobody can teach you how to be a wedding photographer in a forum - especially not when you obviously don't know (or haven't bothered to find out or experiment) the basics... (and please, don't go to the "I've been shooting available light" spiel again - photography is photography no matter what...

I'm sorry to sound harsh, but if she's you're best mate, then the honest thing to do is tell her you simply cannot do it... the way I sense this, you're more likely to ruin her wedding that not...

Bob Sunley , Feb 24, 2012; 09:22 a.m.

Well, there are about 42 gazillion threads here that start out similar to this one, so I'd suggest you start reading fast. :)
The GF thingy is not overly popular with some people here, so I'd return it and and use the search box up above to find threads about what works better and costs less. A piece of white file card rubber banded to the flash works quite well, and there are commercial versions that look more professional.

David Haas , Feb 24, 2012; 10:51 a.m.

Ellie -

First off - welcome to the forum.

On to your questions -
- I'd suggest looking at some pro wedding photographer's sites or bridal mags to get ideas of what is and isn't flattering. Weddings are sometimes more challenging than portraits in that you can't control all aspects of everything - a lot happens in the spur of the moment.

- I usually shoot the formals - when I control the light - on M - with an F8 or higher aperture to get the depth of field that I want. M is because I use pocket wizards (older ones) and studio lights. Candids and ceremony are usually S - since I want to control the motion in the photos.

- Shutter speeds go from 1/5 to 1/1000 - depending on a lot of factors.

- Nope - sorry can't help with the Nissin (although I do drive a Nissan) / sb 910

- Large group shot - 90% of the time I use the studio lights with umbrellas. 10% I use dual sb 800's

- Yes - but only for special lighting circumstances.

- Yes - required and learn how to use it.

- See the comment above about checking out other pro photogs websites and bridal mags.


Craig Shearman , Feb 24, 2012; 12:30 p.m.

There's a whole web site on how to get studio quality lighting from speedlites on location, www.strobist.com. Rather than recreating the wheel here, I would recommend that you go read that, especially the Lighting 101 section. It's written by a former newspaper photographer, so it's not specific to weddings, but the principles are the same.

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Feb 24, 2012; 01:12 p.m.

I would say that Neil van Niekerk's tutorials are easier to wade through (than strobist) to get specific information for shooting weddings and events. Strobist is wonderful re teaching principles, but I don't think people would find it easy to wade through all the tutorials and pick out what is useful for weddings and events--in a short time. Most of Neil's tutorials are geared toward weddings and events.

You may also be interested in the following recent thread.


1. The emphasis on settings for flattering light is backward to me. Flattering light exists and one takes advantage of it and/or is created. One sees the flattering light or creates it, and then one decides on one's settings, based on what is possible, and what aspects of the light one is trying to take advantage of.

As for the TTL-BL vs TTL, I would image (since I don't use Nikons) that you would want TTL-BL when you are using the flash for fill only, and TTL when you want the flash to be dominant, such as in a dark room where one cannot use the ambient.

2. I use manual camera mode mostly. Sometimes I use an automated mode such as AV or TV when I come upon sudden action and I don't have time to even think. I don't use Program because I don't like the lack of control, and AV or TV gives me enough control. When I am using flash as dominant light source, I use manual camera mode for sure, so that I can control shutter drag myself.

3. When ambient light is dominant, I generally use the fastest shutter speed I can without giving up too much of the aperture I would ideally want. There is hand holding shake and camera/lens shake and freezing subject motion to consider as well. Don't know that I can characterize 'general' shutter speeds.

When flash is dominant, I generally drag the shutter, but not always. What shutter speed to use depends on the ambient light present and what effect is desired.

4. I don't shoot Nikon. However, I would imagine that if the Nissin is capable of being controlled by Nikon's wireless system, you can do so. How you use the two flashes together is up to you. While the Nikon wireless system seems to be more reliable than Canon's, I would still read up on reliability and weak spots.

5. I generally use off camera flash a lot. One beside the on camera for many different parts of the wedding, including group shots, and at least 2 during the reception. However, given that you are looking at a registry office and restaurant shoot, even one off camera may or may not be too much, given likely small spaces.

6. My off camera flashes are usually on stands, or they are clamped, or set on found objects. My on camera flash is sometimes on a bracket. My off camera flashes are usually on manual flash mode at between 1/8 - 1/2 power, depending.

7. See the linked thread for flash diffusers.

8. Besides asking her specifically what groups she wants, and covering all of her guests, the photos all brides want are ones where a) she looks fantastic and b) shows the love between bride and groom, and images should preferably show both. You need to manage an opportunity to photograph the love part, where they preferably can get away from their guests for even a few minutes.

Re your turning the flash down--correct, it works well when there is lots of light and you are using the flash only for fill. When you need to use it as main source of light, you need to NOT be underexposing your subjects, and therefore shouldn't generally be turning your flash down. However, I use the word 'generally', because flash compensation does not follow hard and fast, logical rules. You need to compensate the flash so that your subjects are not underexposed. If that means you turn the flash comp down, so be it.

David Wegwart - Denver/CO. , Feb 25, 2012; 09:35 a.m.

Hi Ellie,
Welcome to Pnet's overly experienced board of wedding shooters ;-). I too shoot Nikon (ATM), and work with of cam once the light drops. However, I find that in dull receptions and such, softboxes and umbrellas don't work too well. They end up in your shot a lot of times and are just unsightly. With that said...

I will work through your questions with my answers and you can take from it what you will.

- What settings do you tend to use for flattering light?
Flattering light is hard to achieve with the wedding reception scenario. This is not a portrait session, but more of a paparazzi shoot (if you get my drift). The reason I use speedlights for weddings is specifically because they are small and easy to trigger/change settings on the fly. The pack up and move with one hand (mostly) as they are one a stand that is light/small.
Does everyone use TTL BL for fill and TLL for dark rooms or have I got that wrong?

I don't. I use TTL outdoors in daylight, but dialed back about -1 or so. Indoors (darker rooms), I use the off camera lights in manual mode and ride the aperture up and down as needed. My on cam (sb900 currently) is set to TTL -0.3 usually, and that is combined with an ISO and aperture that give me the ambient at about two stops under.
I have heard others say the TTL works well on the Nikon system, but it's hard for me to trust it coming from manual settings.
- What settings do you use on camera - AP or M? Why?

For most wedding work here is what I find myself doing. I shoot with two bodies. Body #1 is currently a D7k and body #2 is a D700. On #1 I have it set to manual most of the time. I lilke to control what light is recorded by a quick guess of what the light levels are. I dial the settings I think in, shoot a frame, then adjust to suit. I am usually shooting a 17-55 on that body, so I look for a SS of around 1/80th (higher if the light allows). My aperture is normally around F4 - F4.5 for most of the day. Stopping down for venue shots and portraits of the groups etc. I set ISO's based on the need. Once I hit ISO1000, I will typically introduce flash (bouncing it when possible). Those settings are not hard and fast, but generally what is used for body #1.
Body #2 is set to Av most of the time, and around F1.6 - F2.2 with an 85mm. I use ISO's from around 400 to 6400 (only going higher as needed of course) The great thing about the D700's (or other nikons) is that you can set the lower limit of the SS when employing auto ISO, so I do use that in the darkest of situations. I will set this camera to M when I want a particular look, and any auto settings are too restrictive. On this cam/lens combo, I look for a SS higher than 1/100th when possible, but frequently find myself dialing it back to 1/50th - 1/60th to get the shot.
- What sort of shutter speeds do you commonly find yourself using?
As said above, you will see I am using higher SS's on body #2, but on body #1, I will drop it to 1/30th and let the flash freeze my subject sometimes. If I want the light trails, I use it down to 1/10 with flash. Working w/out flash, I tend to stay in the 1/60+ range.

- Does anyone have BOTH SB-910 and the Nissin? How would I use them together most simply?
I don't know the answer here as I don't have either. But, I use an SB900 to trigger SB800's off cam and with the Radiopoppers, they are flawless.

- In general, would you use 2 speedlights together at a wedding?
I use up to 4 depending on what we need to get done. For larger groups, I will set up a pair of them shooting into a 60" or so umbrella (shoot through some times).
For receptions/dancing, I usually have one off cam at a corner of the dance area with a wider head setting around the 28mm setting (flash head). No modifiers on that one, and I have it close to or right next to the DJ's speakers or some other non movable object. I have a second/assistant with me who also works with this setup, but using his own off cam flash.
What about the large group shot?
As said above.

- Do you ever set up stands for your speedlights - if so for what setting?
See above
I have a camera & speedlight bracket and I was assuming that I wouldn't be using stands at all - let me know if I'm wrong...
See above

- Flash diffusers? I have ordered a Gary Fong Lightsphere because I thought it was probably a sure-bet.
I have a few of these from a few years back. They do work well in some situations, but not all. They also waste a lot of light and when you want to shoot for several hours with flash, your batteries will be spent much faster as your flash has to work much harder.
I tried using a flash bracket on camera for some time too. That also is good, but is very cumbersome and makes me bash the guests in the head with my flash from time to time.
Presently, I use a piece of foamy from the craft store (see pic below)
- Are there any setups that I shouldn't miss? Any sure-fire winners that the bride and groom will go 'fantastic'! If I know there are some winning shots in the bag I will be less nervous... [quaking in boots..shudder]

This is usually the basics: The couple's portrait; Portraits with Mom/Dad (w/ bride and same with groom), then the wedding party and family groups. Processional, ring exchange, kiss, recessional. First dance, dance with dad/mom etc., cake cutting, bouquet / garter toss and Exit.

Hope some of that helps. Try to stay focussed on getting your settings dialed in at the start of each portion of the day. Then look for what you would like for your own wedding to add to the list of must have's above. All the best.

Most used flash modifier for bouncing.

David Wegwart - Denver/CO. , Feb 25, 2012; 09:39 a.m.

Also, visit NVN's site as Nadine suggests. He offers quite a bit of great information.

Ellie Lewis , Feb 25, 2012; 04:55 p.m.

Thanks for the responses all, great stuff.
Nadine & David- some great specifics there which give me a great idea of some stuff to experiment, with leading up to the wedding
I should have said I do already do some family shoots with speedlights, pocketwizards and stands (+ brollies, softbox) but that is usually always outdoors and in fairly relaxed timeframe, I imagine the wedding will be a lot more chaotic.
I guess the setup I'm most concerned about is the larger group setups, because at the moment I never shoot more than 4-5 people in frame. So lighting for so many people is completely new to me. If it's raining and all photos have to be done inside, would 2 speedlights on stands be sufficient for a group of 30 people tightly packed assuming high ISO? Or would they need to be face-on for enough power, thereby producing spot lights on certain people in the group? It's hard to practice on this many people!!
Marios - sorry I should have said, I didn't want or offer to shoot the wedding, she asked me as a favour - as otherwise she wasn't going to have a photographer at all (they are also having a beach wedding elsewhere later in the year with a pro wedding photographer). I have made it clear to my friend that she should only have expectations of marginally better than any other guest at the wedding.. she's happy with that and hopefully they will be a LOT better!! That said I am trying to be conscientious as possible and hence trying to get as much information here to practice beforehand. You have certainly added to my anxiety nicely though LOL ;)

David Wegwart - Denver/CO. , Feb 25, 2012; 05:59 p.m.

Hi Ellie,
IMO, yes on the dual speed lights if you shoot through a brolly (take the shell off in case you are unfamiliar with that use of brollies) and have the power set to about 1/2.

Here is something that will give you an idea of the light spread and how it looks with groups. I picked this one as the group is spread far enough to have 20-25 heads and still get the same effective coverage (light wise). It was shot through a 20" brolly as we had some breeze and did not want to chase a brolly around. This is one speed light, set cam. right by about 5' and about 10+' from the nearest subject. I had it dialed to about 1/4 power with ISO of 100 and the sun behind (as you can see). So, pretty easy, but you can see how this will work if you are outside and the light is dropping. Of course, this may not be a soft enough light for you needs, but works well in a wedding situation for us.

ISO100; F6.3 (crop body); FL about 25mm; SS 1/125th - Single SB800 1/4 power through a 20" brolly.

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